Passage of Her Majesty's Speech read—
The System under which Merchant Shipping is liable to pay Local Dues and Passing Tolls has been the Subject of much Complaint. Measures
will be proposed to you for affording Relief in regard to those Matters.
§ On the Motion of Mr. LOWE, House in Committee, to consider Local Dues on Shipping, &c.
§ MR. LOWE
Mr. FitzRoy, I have to ask the indulgence of the Committee while I endeavour to bring before it a complicated and important question with which I cannot boast much familiarity or long experience, but to which I have given such time and attention as I could command. When the navigation laws were repealed, it became the duty of the Government to look into the condition of our shipowners, who were then exposed to unrestricted competition with foreign shipowners, and to see that they were not prejudiced by the laws or impositions which placed them at an undue disadvantage with their rivals, and I think it is only due to the Gentlemen who have successively filled the office of President of the Board of Trade to say that in no department of the State have greater and more important reforms been effected than have been effected of late years, in the laws affecting shipping, the condition of our sailors, and the affairs connected with that subject. Since the Navigation Laws were repealed the whole law relative to shipping has been consolidated into one Act, so that every person may understand the law at once. The claim of Her Majesty's ships to salvage, which had frequently produced difficulty and ill-feeling, has been reduced and modified. The masters and mates of merchant vessels are compelled to undergo an examination before the lives of passengers and crews are entrusted to them. A system has been established at the outports by which sailors are enabled, upon coming on shore, to exchange their pay for money-orders, payable at any port in the kingdom, whereby thousands of pounds are annually saved to the families of sailors which would have been spent in the first orgies of recovered liberty. Another change which has been effected, is that by which, without expense to their survivors, the wages and effects of deceased seamen may be collected and realised; whereby many thousands of pounds annually are recovered—last year the sum was upwards of £30,000, besides effects in kind—for the widows and families of sailors that would formerly have never been received or would have been absorbed in legal expenses. A system of inquiry has also been instituted into the causes of wrecks 154 and the misconduct of masters of ships, which has been a great check upon many reckless and dangerous practices, and an inducement to the cultivation of habits of sobriety and increased care. Then, the law in regard to the receivers of Admiralty droits and the salvage claimed by persons in possession of wrecked vessels has been placed on a more satisfactory footing, and while the rights of salvors have been attended to, they have been prevented from seizing wrecked vessels, and holding them as against the owners, rather with a view of gain to themselves— as hitherto has been too much the case— than for the purpose of rendering assistance in recovering wrecked property for the benefit of the owners. The lighthouse dues have been reduced by £105,000 a year; but, owing to an improved administration of the fund, it is now in so prosperous a state that several lighthouses are being built in Scotland and other parts. I mention these as samples of the activity of the Board of Trade since the Navigation Laws were repealed, and to show that in the present measure we are only carrying out a series of important improvements, which have been already begun, and are, indeed, far advanced.
In the year 1852, the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a speech, in which he used these expressions—It seems to us indefensible that, when the principle of unrestricted competition is established, the shipping interest of this country should be paying a tax, not for the lights supplied for their benefit (because for them they pay sufficiently), but in order that improvident grants of former Sovereigns and Parliaments should be counteracted by a peculiar tax raised from them, and in respect to which they get no return whatever. We think, also, that all that which is levied from the shipping interest under the name of 'passing tolls' is a vexation, a grievance, and a burden, to which the shipping of this country, under present circumstances, ought not to be subjected."—[3 Hansard, cxxiii. 841.]These words of the right hon. Gentleman may be supposed to have had their due weight with the Aberdeen Government: the result of their consideration of the subject was, that a Royal Commission was issued to inquire into the local burdens upon shipping. The Commissioners, of whom there were three, after investigating the subject with commendable ability, zeal, and industry, made a Report in 1854, which is the foundation for the Bill that I shall ask the leave of the House to introduce.
155 I may as well state, at first, that from this Bill the port of London is excluded, because the affairs of the Corporation of London have come under another Commission, which has since made a Report, and the recommendations in which, arrived at after independent inquiry and consideration, are in accordance with those of the Commission on local dues and shipping.
I find, Sir, that the amount of dues levied on shipping in 1855, for all purposes of harbours, and every other purpose was, excluding London, £1,095,396, and of that amount there were applied to maritime purposes only £820,099. There thus remained a heavy balance of £275,297 raised by taxation upon shipping, which is not applied to shipping purposes. It is with the appropriation of that balance that we are concerned to-night. We will see what becomes of it, why it is annually drawn, whether it is just that it should continue to be so drawn, and how it may be more justly administered. The items which make up this amount are—firstly, passing tolls levied by certain harbours upon ships which pass such harbours, but do not enter them; secondly, town dues levied on ships by municipal corporations, which are devoted to municipal and not to shipping purposes; thirdly, charitable funds levied upon shipping; and, fourthly, special taxes raised in the harbours of Dublin and Cork by Her Majesty's Government, and devoted principally to the payment of debts due to the Consolidated Fund. These items nearly make up the sum that I have mentioned, The accounts I am about to state are those of 1852, but they have been augmented since that time; and as the increase has been computed at ten per cent, the amount at the present time is not less than £300,000, and every statement I have to make of the particular items is to be taken with a similar addition.
The first charge we have to consider is the passing tolls. The passing tolls are four in number, and are levied by the ports of Dover, Ramsgate, Bridlington, and Whitby. They amount to £32,496. The first is Dover. The passing tolls of Dover are computed to amount to £12,000. This tax is levied on parties which derive no benefit from it. The port of Dover is not available as a harbour of refuge, because it is dry at low water, and at high water it is only seven feet in depth, while for sixteen out of the twenty-four hours it 156 is inaccessible to vessels of only 150 tons burthen. Upon this toll, together with other dues, property is charged a debt of £85,544. The Admiralty is making a large pier—in fact, a new harbour—at Dover. Now, these tolls are levied in respect of the old or inner harbour, which, by the erection of the new harbour, will be rendered of very trivial importance. The Commissioners have, therefore, recommended that the Admiralty should take Dover harbour altogether out of the hands of the local authorities, especially as it is used principally for military, or, I may say, for political purposes, and that the passing tolls should be abolished.
The next toll to which I will call the attention of the Committee is the passing toll of Ramsgate, the amount of which at the present time is about £14,000. It is levied upon all vessels laden with coal, culm, or stone, and upon other vessels above 20 tons burthen, including foreign vessels. Ramsgate affords the greatest accommodation for shipping of all these harbours, there being as much as eight feet in it at low water, although that depth is, of course, quite inadequate to constitute a really good harbour of refuge. Its entrance is narrow, it is difficult of access, it is looked upon as dangerous by mariners, and the ships which pass by derive no benefit from it. It is of use to shipping lying in the Downs, as they are able to take refuge in it in case of accident; but it has no claim whatever as a harbour of refuge upon the shipping which passes by, and nothing can be more unjust than to make that shipping pay for its maintenance. Repairs are going on there which have turned out to be more costly and troublesome than it was at first supposed they would be, and every estimate and every report which is made shows that more and more is likely to be demanded. With a view to mitigate the evil, various suggestions have been made. The general effect of this Bill is to transfer the harbour to trustees, together with certain dues upon coal now levied at Ramsgate, in order to keep up a sufficient revenue after the abolition of the passing tolls, for the maintenance of the harbour.
The next harbour to which I shall refer is that of Bridlington. A passing toll is levied upon all coal coming southward of ¼d. per 2½ tons of coals. The harbour has a narrow entrance, is inaccessible at low water, and is totally unfit for the purpose of a harbour of refuge. The amount levied by it at the present time is £2,835, 157 and its debt is £28,858. The passing toll at Bridlington differs in one respect from the other passing tolls, for it will cease to exist in 1868.
The last passing toll to which I have to call the attention of the Committee is that of Whitby, to which the same remarks apply as I have made with regard to the others. The harbour is dry at low water, it is unfitted for the purposes of a harbour of refuge, and it levies a tax upon coal coming from the port of Newcastle—not, I mean, from the modern port upon which the town is situate, but from the ancient port, including the town of Sunderland. The amount of the toll is £4,111, the debt upon which is £,32,720. The total debts upon the two latter tolls, including what I may call the charges in embryo, such as these for repairs of the harbours, amount to upwards of £60,000.
The next head of taxation upon shipping that I have to deal with is what are called town dues. They are dues levied upon shipping by municipal corporations and town authorities, by which I mean authorities having control over lighting, paving, health, and such matters, and applied by them, not to shipping purposes, but to their own purposes, in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Their amount in the year 1852 was £182,058, and is now probably little short of £200,000. The whole of this, except about £14,000, was applied by these bodies not to shipping purposes, but to their own purposes. It is difficult to trace the origin of these dues. The Crown had an undisputed prerogative in earlier times to create petty customs wherever it pleased, and these customs were often granted to corporations, and often to favourites of the Crown. They were the objects of bargain and sale, like any other kind of property, and many of them by this means came into the hands of municipal corporations. They were most probably originally saddled with a sort of trust for the maintenance of the harbours in respect of which they were levied; and it is still the law of Scotland—much to the credit of the jurisprudence of that country—that if a man be the proprietor of a harbour, he has an implied trust to keep such harbour in repair. But in England the rights of property have always been more durable and permanent than the duties imposed upon the holder of that property. The tendency among us, in cases in which trusts have been created upon property, is 158 for the property to remain, but for the trusts or obligations upon it gradually to drop off. Such was the case with regard to all these harbours. They gradually came into the possession of the old self-elected corporations which were destroyed by the Municipal Reform Bill, and these corporations disposed of the revenues much as they pleased. Then came the Municipal Reform Bill, abolishing the old corporations and substituting for them bodies elected by the people; it also required all the corporate property, to be appropriated to corporation purposes; the whole of the revenue to which the corporation was entitled, whether derived from the rent of estates or from the dues levied upon shipping, or from any other sources, went into one borough fund; and the 92nd section of the Act (5 & 6 Will. IV., c. 76) declared that this fund should first be applied to the payment of debts, to the administration of local justice, and to the maintenance of local police, and the surplus, if any surplus remained, was to be expended for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town. Thus, by the operation of the Municipal Corporations Act, in consequence, as I apprehend, of an oversight on the part of those who prepared it, the tolls levied upon shipping became part of the borough fund, and were saddled with a trust for the benefit, not of the shipping, but of the inhabitants of the town. Before that Act was passed, the corporations wore at liberty to do justice to the shipping, if they pleased, by applying the money obtained from it to its benefit; but they have since had no choice, and therefore, if I denounce as unjust the enormous gains derived by them from this source, I shall do so without the slightest intention of imputing injustice to them in applying the money to borough purposes, as in doing so they only carried out the express provisions of the Act. An example will be better than any amount of disquisition to enable the Committee to understand the working of the present system, and I will therefore take the most prominent instance with which I am acquainted—that of the great and opulent town of Liverpool. I am not so sanguine as to imagine that the hon. Gentlemen who represent that important constituency will be persuaded by anything I can say to yield their assent to the provisions of this Bill, and I will, therefore, state my case against them at once, in order that the Committee may understand the great mistake under which they are labouring. Liverpool is said to 159 have acquired its dues by purchase from the family of Lord Sefton, about 200 years ago. The whole amount of town dues appropriated to municipal purposes in England, Scotland, and Ireland, in 1852, was 163,000l., and of that amount the municipal corporation of Liverpool levied by dues upon shipping no less than £105,250. Out of this they are obliged by law to apply to maritime purposes the magnificent sum of £400 a year. They are, however, better than the law obliges them to be, for in that year they applied to these purposes no less than £3,044, the remainder being expended for the benefit of the ratepayers of the borough. The debt upon this sum amounts to £1,017,696. The municipal revenue derived from rates levied in the borough, and from property belonging to the corporation, is £103,325, and no doubt since 1852 the revenue derived from taxes upon shipping has increased 22 per cent, and now amounts to about £125,000. The value of rateable property in Liverpool is £1,400,000. Besides the enormous tax I have mentioned, the docks of Liverpool levy on the shipping £273,284, the whole of which is by no means paid for services conferred. A ship is liable to pay if it discharges or takes in any cargo in the stream. The steamer Sarah Sands, from America, was too heavily laden to go into Birkenhead docks, and discharged part of her cargo in two lighters. Still she was made liable to Liverpool docks for this, and paid £64. The steamer Brazilian took in a few packages in the stream, and paid £44 to Liverpool docks. The severity of this tax is not to be exceeded; and what makes it worse is that the Liverpool port extends from the river Dee to the river Ribble, and from the entrance of the Mersey to Runcorn. It extends also to Birkenhead; and Birkenhead and Runcorn have to contribute to the Liverpool docks and town dues. It is a complaint on the part of some that persons in South Wales, if they send coals thence to Runcorn, pay a duty of 2d. per ton, which is equal to the whole of the royalty demanded of the owner of the coal; and, on the part of others, that iron from Scotland is sent by Fleetwood instead of Runcorn, to avoid the duty of 3d. per ton. The immunity of the freemen of Liverpool from these duties is also complained of; and it is stated that a freeman was enabled to obtain a certain contract in preference to another person, because he got the goods necessary for carrying out the contract 160 toll free. This, then, is the case of a man for whose benefit the tolls are imposed not contributing towards them, and being enabled thereby successfully to compete with his neighbour. In consequence of these duties a great deal of trade is driven out of its natural course, and finds its way to Chester, where the dues are light. Such a result is, of course, a great injury to the public. Newcastle also profits largely by these town dues, their amount there being £8,600 a year. At Hull they amount to £5,000 a year; and for the three towns of Liverpool, Newcastle, and Hull, the total of the town dues is £118,600. It is curiously remarked, too, that these three towns, which have the advantage of receiving this enormous tribute levied from other men's property, are as little favourably spoken of for the efficiency of their municipal regulations or sanitary improvements as any in the kingdom. Not only are these dues unjust in principle, and not only do they disturb commerce, but I believe that they react with considerable disadvantage on the places themselves. We must not, therefore, conclude that in this matter all is gold that glitters, nor, because Liverpool pockets some £100,000 at the expense of the shipping interest, that that town is really a gainer to that extent; for these dues deter people from coming to it, and cause a circuitous mode of transit to be had recourse to.
The next subject I have to deal with is the large amount taken from the shipping interest by the Trinity Houses and other charitable bodies, and expended in pensions and in other ways from which shipping derives no benefit. These charities are thirteen in number, and I find that they receive from shipping a sum of about £36,789. Many of these charities are mixed up to some extent with shipping purposes; and in all of them a great amount is applied to very excellent purposes, such as the maintenance of decayed seamen, almshouses, and the like. Taking the case of the Hull Trinity House as an example, the right hon. Gentleman read, the following statement:—Receipts—Tolls on ships and goods, £15,001 7s. 4d.; differential dues, consolidated fund, £8,245 13s. 11d.; remaining revenues from property, &c., 5,313l. 6s.—total, £28,560 7s. 3d. Expenditure (accounted for)—Buoys, beacons, and other shipping purposes, £5,113 1s. 7d.; elder brethren and as- 161 sistants, £144; almshouses, pensions, and charities, £15,983 17s. 7d.—total, £21,240 19s. 2d. Unaccounted for, £7,319 8s. 1d. Thus, as regards this charity alone, the effect of the measure will be to free the trade of Hull from a tax of £10,000 a year, and the consolidated fund from a charge of above £8,000 a year.
Another subject worthy of attention is the case of the Russian Corporation. This company was originally established by charter in the reign of Philip and Mary on the old principle of monopoly of trade. It seems to have been similar to the Levant and other trading companies, having a monopoly of trade with Russia, and power of governing the persons engaged in it. Under these powers certain tolls were established, which are still levied. This company levies in Russia, at St. Peters-burgh, about £12,000 annually on British shipping. If the war with Russia has had no other good effect, it has, at all events, saved the shipping interest from the payment of that sum. Of this £12,000 the sum of £1,400 is for a Russian Customs' tax, £2,500 is for British episcopal churches in Russia, and the remaining £8,000 or upwards is applied in paying agents at St. Petersburgh and Cronstadt for communicating with the Russian Government—as if British merchants were not able to communicate with the Government themselves, or, at least, through Her Majesty's representatives—and for other agency business, which, if wanted at all, ought to be done and paid for by voluntary arrangement between the merchant and agent. Besides the foregoing, the company levy in English ports, on goods imported from Northern Russia, £2,178. By the accounts of the company it appears that a portion of their money, every farthing of which is derived from British shipping, except the interest on their savings—though, I suppose, these savings were originally derived from the same source—was expended in 1852 in the following manner:—Salaries, &c., chaplains, £1,059 9s. 9d.; ditto, agents, 500l.; pensions to a widow and a clergyman, £150; rent of office, £50; plate to Governor, which is an annual charge, £85; courts and committees, £226; salary, &c., secretary, £300; ditto, sergeant, £30; Custom-house expenses, £12 11s. 6d.; Sound lists, £48 6s. 6d.; printing, &c., £14 7s.; postage, &c., £14 5s.; ditto, Russia, £12 9s. 8d.; stamp duty on free- 162 doms, £74; law expenses, £3 18s. 6d.; grant for schools at St.Petersburgh, £100; grant for organ at Moscow, £25; miscellaneous, £176 12s. 7d.; housekeeper, £12 0s. 10d.; total, £2,894 1s. 4d. There is a charge of £25 for an organ at Moscow—a praiseworthy object, no doubt, but one which does not seem to have very much to do with shipping. Then there are the annual charges—such as £1,000 a year for chaplains, and £300 for secretary. Some of the extraordinary expenses are rather peculiar. In 1838 there is a charge of £193 for an entertainment to the Russian Embassy on the occasion of the Queen's coronation; and, in 1839, there was an entertainment to the Grand Duke Alexander, the present Emperor of Russia, which cost £595. There is £14 for expenses connected with the receipt of his portrait; £210 for engraving, and £200 for framing and embellishing the portrait of the late Emperor Nicholas; last of all, there is £100 for the churchwardens at Moscow. Wherever the seaman went he seems to have been considered fair game—something was to be got out of him; and, accordingly, innumerable corporations appear to have fastened on him, and the funds which they have drawn from him they have considered themselves at liberty to apply just as they chose, without the slightest sense of responsibility to anybody.
I will take another charity—one which is connected with the City of London, but which, as it is not included in the report of the City Commissioners, will have to be dealt with in this Bill. It is the Marine Society, which in 1790 had transferred to it from the Westminster Fish-market trustees the right of levying 2s. on every boat-load of fish which passes the Nore. This tax was established in 1755; the collector of the tax was to have one quarter of the receipts for the trouble of collection; and about the same time an inspector was appointed to prevent forestalling and regrating. It is a society, I believe, of the most deserving character, and has for its object the apprenticing of the children of destitute seamen, and I have not the slightest wish to say anything in disparagement of it; but from 1845 to 1854 it received out of the pockets of these poor fishermen no less than £5,989. One quarter of this sum went to the secretary, and £976 to the inspector, who was appointed to prevent fore-stalling and regrating, but 163 whose duties appear latterly to have been confined to helping the collector, and the charity only received £3,515; so that the expenses of collection amounted to 42 per cent.
I pass now to special taxes on shipping, which are collected by Her Majesty's Customs, amounting to £6,865. Of this sum the greater part is collected at the harbour of Kingstown, and about £400 is collected in the shape of entry dues at Cork. I am not quite certain now as to the circumstances under which this last sum is collected—whether they are such as to call for compensation; but I will take care to inform myself on the point. I come now to the case of the differential dues. The Committee is no doubt aware that many of these corporations and charities have been in the habit of imposing differential dues on shipping; that is, higher dues on foreign vessels than on those which are the property of British owners. In 1810 this country concluded a reciprocity treaty with Portugal, and in 1815 with the United States; but when these treaties came to be put into operation it was found that these local dues stood in the way of the execution of these treaties. An Act was accordingly passed which, treating these dues in accordance with the political economy of the time, as the property of the corporations by which they were enjoyed, took away all power of levying them in every case where these reciprocity treaties came into operation, but at the same time enabled the Treasury to give compensation. The same principle of compensation was afterwards extended likewise to all reciprocity treaties then existing, or which might afterwards be made. Under these Acts no less than £52,791 has been paid from the Consolidated Fund for compensation for differential dues during the year 1854. This compensation has increased very rapidly: in 1845 it was but £22,000; in 1846, £27,000; in 1847, £34,000; in 1848, £34,200; in 1852, £42,000; in 1853, £44,000; and, no doubt, if allowed to go on increasing, it would soon amount to £100,000. A large part of this compensation is paid to pilots. Foreign vessels have been obliged to pay higher for pilotage than British vessels, and, as the reciprocity treaties require the abolition of that privilege, a large sum has been paid as compensation for that abolition. The town of Liverpool received ii 1852 £6,500 from the Consolidated Fund as compensation for the loss of these pilot- 164 age dues, over and above the compensation or the differential dues; Newcastle received £3,500 for the pilotage, and £6,000 for the differential dues, and Hull £10,500 for the dues, and £50 for pilotage, besides £8,250 paid to the Hull Trinity House.
The question now comes, how are we to deal with all these charges? And, first, as to the passing tolls. The Government has no hesitation in saying that these oils ought in every instance to be abolished: they rest on no ground of justice or policy; on the contrary, they rest upon claims which, now that the principles of taxation are better understood, would be repudiated by every honest man. The true principle of taxation I take to be this, and it is the guide we have followed, in framing this Bill—that it is only allowable for a portion of a class or a division of the country to tax itself for its own benefit, but that it has no right to tax its neighbours or the community at large. There is always a question about the incidence of these dues. Part of them undoubtedly fall on the shipping interest which immediately pays them, and part upon the consumer, but in the various fluctuations of the market it cannot be denied that a great portion of them must be paid by the shipping interest. I look upon it that the parties concerned are the public at large and the shipping interest.
As to passing tolls, the Bills provide in the first instance that they shall be totally and entirely abolished; but they leave behind them a difficulty as to dealing with the debts connected with them. At Dover, where the toll is £12,000 a year, the debt amounts to no less a sum than £85,000, which is charged upon this toll and other property. We propose that the Admiralty shall take the management of that harbour, shall receive its revenue, with the exception of these tolls, and shall be liable for its debt; so that those who advanced the money will obtain, in exchange for the security of these tolls which are to be abolished, that of the Government. At Ramsgate there is no debt, but, what is almost equivalent to it, large works, which are, I believe, necessary for the improvement of the harbour, are going on there. We propose that the cost of these works and the current expenditure of the harbour should be defrayed partly out of the income arising from which is already vested in the harbour authorities of Ramsgate, and partly out of a sum of £2,000 a year, the product of a tax upon coals, to be transferred to 165 them from the town authorities by the operation of a subsequent portion of this Bill, and partly out of certain new dues, which it is suggested should be imposed. If these sums are not sufficient, we must have recourse to some other fund to make up the difference. At Bridlington there is a debt of £28,000, and at Whitby a debt of £32,000, which will both be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and on the payment of which the passing tolls of these harbours will be abolished. If any one thinks that this is an extravagant sum to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, I will refer to the fact that, in the speech I have already quoted, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) recommended that £100,000 of the public revenue should be devoted to the purpose of extinguishing these maritime dues; and I will also remind the House that the Government will be greatly a gainer by the abolition of its payments on account of differential dues to which I have referred. That disposes of the passing tolls.
The town dues, or dues levied upon shipping, and applied to the purposes of municipal corporations, also appear to me to be susceptible of very simple treatment. I grant that there is a legal right to these dues, because it has been given by Act of Parliament; but I cannot conceive upon what principle, ex œquo et bono, a corporation can be justified in raising, by taxing the shipping which comes into its harbour, sums applied for the benefit, not of shipping, but of the ratepayers of the town. I have shown how injurious such a practice is to the places where it obtains; and I need only add that the shipowner is clearly as much entitled to justice as the ratepayer; and that, as in the case of the ratepayer, all sums raised by rates levied upon him are applied to purposes in which he has an interest, so the shipowner has a right to claim that all sums raised by taxes on shipping shall be devoted to purposes in which shipping is interested. I will put the case no higher, and it seems to me that, put so, it is impossible to answer it. Of course we shall hear of vested interests; but over and over again this House has decided—and I think it will not go back from that decision—that in this matter there is the widest possible distinction between corporations or public bodies and private individuals. Mr. Hallam, a high authority on such points, says, in the first volume of his Constitutional History of 166 England, that Parliament, although bound to respect the legal interest of private persons, is not withheld by any such rule with regard to corporations when it can be shown that the abolition of such interests is for the public benefit, or that their retention would be unjust or impolitic. I therefore conclude that we shall do no wrong whatever by relieving the shipping interest from the payment of the enormous sum of £182,000—probably now more than £200,000—a year, wrung from them by various corporations of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and applied to matters in which it has no interest, and from which it derives no benefit whatever. The matter is not, however, so simple as it might appear. The funds raised by these clues are charged with debts, and the question arises, what is to be done with the debts? Her Majesty's Commissioners unhesitatingly recommend that where these debts had been contracted for town purposes in which the shipping had no interest, they should be transferred to the borough fund. To the justice of that recommendation I cannot wholly subscribe. It seems to me that the corporations, having contracted debts on the faith of the responsibility of these two funds—the borough fund, and that raised by the dues on shipping, which, under the Municipal Corporation Act, in fact, formed part of the borough fund—did no more than they legally might and were bound to do for the interest of the boroughs; and it would be a great hardship to rip up transactions which were perfectly legal, and to make corporations liable for the whole of debts which they would probably never have contracted had they known that the revenue which they derived from taxing ships was to cease. The principle we propose to adopt is this: As to the creditor there will be no change. He will still have his remedy against both the borough fund and that derived from the dues on ships; but, as between these funds, we propose to divide the debt in proportion to their respective amounts. We propose to take this sum: as the borough fund, or the fund arising from the taxes on town property, is to the fund arising from the taxation on shipping, so shall be the portion of the debt borne by the borough fund to that borne by the shipping dues fund. The figures are these. The debts chargeable on town dues in common with other town revenues in England, Scotland, and Ireland, are £2,576,378; the town dues on shipping, £182,058; the 167 remaining town revenues are £416,010; the sum, therefore, is—as £416,010 is to £182,058, so will be the portion of £2,576,378 which shall be borne by the borough fund to that which shall be borne by the shipping dues fund. The result of this will be that the portion to be borne by the shipping fund will be £784,272, and that by other town revenues £1,792,102. Thus it will appear that, if all corporations were equally indebted, and all the debts and all the dues could be accumulated into two funds, the debts might be paid off in three years and a-half. Of course, as the debts are unequal, this cannot be done. Of the amount of town dues on shipping, £182,058, we calculate that £14,000 must be applied to shipping purposes, and the remainder, £168,058, will be at the disposal of the Bill. Now for the manner in which we propose to carry out our objects. We propose that these town dues, hitherto collected by the municipal authorities, shall henceforth be collected by the Commissioners of Customs, and carried to an account with the Paymaster General; and that in the case of leases of these tolls the rent shall be paid over to the same account, saving any encumbrances which there may be upon the leases. To facilitate the discharge of the debts, it is proposed that every town authority shall be called upon to furnish to the Board of Trade an account of its revenue for three years up to the passing of this Act, showing how much came from shipping dues, and how much from other sources; upon the receipt of which account the Board of Trade is to ascertain the amount of debt to be borne by each species of revenue in the manner already mentioned. Creditors may use their right to go against either fund; but if one fund pays more than its fair proportion of the debt, it shall be reimbursed by the other. We also provide for the formation of a sinking fund to pay off the debts. It is evident that the sooner a partnership of liability of this sort is dissolved the better, and, to accomplish this dissolution, we provide a sinking fund to pay off the debts, and we also propose to facilitate arrangements for borrowing money and other purposes. As regards such of these dues as may not be required for the purposes of the sinking fund, or for the payment of interest, it is proposed that there shall be reserved to the Queen a power of abolishing or retaining them, as she may think fit, by an Order in Council, the object being that the harbours may be in no danger of "starving," 168 so to speak, through the sudden withdrawal of the funds on which they have been accustomed to depend for support; or by other deficiencies of revenue. In the interest of the creditor also, who might otherwise be left without his remedy, it is desirable that a power should be reserved of raising the dues anew in case it should be found necessary to do so.
The next subject to be dealt with is that of charities. With respect to charities, it is intended to apply to them the same rule of treatment to which municipal corporations are to be subjected, with this difference, however, that in dealing with charities we shall be relieved from the disturbing element of debt. We propose to take the collection of the charitable revenues out of the hands to which it is at present confided, and to intrust it to these of the Customs' authorities. We propose to take power to appropriate as much of these funds as may be required for strictly maritime purposes, to pay all pensions already vested for life, and to abolish the remainder, or to apply them as maybe found necessary to shipping purposes. Some of these charitable corporations have under their control certain lighthouses not properly within the jurisdiction of harbour authorities, and it is proposed to transfer the management of all such lighthouses to the Trinity House of Deptford Strond, and the other general lighthouse hoards, so as to make the system of administration of the coast lights of the United Kingdom as complete and uniform as possible.
As it is very possible that the course proposed to be taken under this Bill may be assailed and resisted by arguments founded on the old plea of vested rights, there is a precedent which, as I think, satisfactorily disposes of all such pretences, and to that precedent I would especially direct the attention of the House. In 1853 my right hon. Friend, then the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Cardwell), made an application to the Trinity House to discontinue the practice of levying dues for charitable purposes. The Trinity House very naturally took up the cause of the charities, and offered every possible opposition to the proposal of the Government. A memorial was presented by them to the Queen in Council, which was referred by Her Majesty to the Board of Trade for their consideration. The Board accordingly made a Report to the Crown, from which I will take the liberty of reading a few passages, which place the question in a very 169 clear light, and vindicate a principle which was not only sound in theory, but beneficial in practice, for it was subsequently acted upon, and caused a saving to the shipping interest of this country of no less a sum than £105,000 a year, and was also of great service in promoting the erection of lighthouses:—The Trinity House Corporation, in their representation, call attention to the case of Royal grants of lighthouses and light dues to individuals, and to the recognition, by Acts of Parliament, of these lighthouses and light dues as the private property of the individuals to whom they were so granted; and they contend that the claims of the Corporation are at least as deserving of favourable consideration as these of individuals. They further allege that the light dues belonging to the Corporation have been from time to time invested in the erection or the purchase of lighthouses; and they submit that the lighthouses and light dues belong to them for the purposes of the Corporation, and are in the strictest sense their property for those purposes; and they allege that to allow to the shipowners the use of this property without any charge beyond the expense of maintaining the lights would be, as affecting the Corporation's charities, an alienation of property devoted to the benefit of decayed masters and seamen of the merchant service and their families, and a gift of that property to the shipowners; and they insist that such a measure would be neither just nor expedient.To this summary of arguments, urged by the Trinity House, the Board of Trade replied thus:—The Lords of the Committee do not call in question the title of the Corporation of the Trinity House to the property so alleged to be vested in them; but there is, as their Lordships submit, this distinction between the case of the Corporation and that of the individuals referred to—that the property so vested in the Corporation has been held and is held by them, so far at least as relates to the light dues in question, in trust for public purposes, and liable, therefore, to be dealt with upon considerations of public policy. Their Lordships cannot admit that there is any violation of the principle of property in the reduction of a tax levied for public purposes where no vested interests have been acquired in the proceeds of the tax; and where the tax in question is one levied upon a particular class of your Majesty's subjects, without that class deriving any adequate advantage in return (and any excess of light dues beyond the amount necessary to maintain the lights is a tax of this character), the reduction of such a tax not only involves no violation of the principle of property, but is in the highest degree just and expedient. Their Lordships cannot recognise any vested rights in the expectants of the bounty dealt out to poor mariners and their families, at the pleasure of the Corporation, from the surplus revenues of the lights; since it is of the essence of a vested interest that the individuals to whom the privilege is secured are ascertained and known to the law; and while their Lordships would religiously abstain from interfering in the slightest degree with the pensions or 170 other benefits already conferred upon any person whatsoever, they can acknowledge no injustice in resolving, upon grounds of public policy, to confer upon no new persons a right to which at present no individual can advance any claim or title.That, I take it, is the common sense of the matter. The principle is a sound, just, and sensible one, and it has this further recommendation, that it is not simply theoretical, for it has been already acted upon, and by means of it most important benefits have been secured to the shipping interests. As for the Russia Company, the tax which that Corporation has been in the habit of levying on English shipping will be completely done away with by this Bill. The war has already suspended the operations of the Russia Company, and I hope that with that peace, the early approach of which we are now awaiting, will not revive the right of the Company to tax Her Majesty's subjects trading with Russia for the maintenance either of a chaplain at Moscow, plate to the governor, or for any such like pious and righteous purposes. No doubt these objects, viewed in the abstract, are highly laudable, and nothing can exceed the credit that is due to these who apply to such purposes money of their own, or money which they are authorised so to dispose; but it is very little to the honour of any man that he should misappropriate funds not belonging to him, and be generous at the expense of other people. So much for charities.
Special customs we propose to put an end to.
The last question that arises is that of differential dues. These may be divided into two classes—these held by corporations and local bodies, who render no services to shipping in return for them, and these held either by bodies or persons who do render such services, or by private persons into whose possession they have passed either by purchase or inheritance. The former class amount to about £23,545, and this we mean to abolish altogether. If these bodies have, as we think, no right to tax shipping, they have no right to compensation for the tax. A river may not mount higher than its source. But, putting aside this argument, it may have been just and expedient to respect the right of public bodies to tax foreign at a higher rate than British ships as long as the principle of protection was allowed to govern our legislation; but when that principle was discarded in favour 171 of the free-trade system, and when the country gave its sanction to the doctrine that our legislation should be framed without reference to other nations, hut simply with a view to what might be most conducive to our own interests, this claim of public bodies to tax foreign ships at a higher rate than British ceased to have the slightest foundation in justice; and these who may be interested in its maintenance, so far from having any reasonable ground of complaint because of the course now about to be taken should think themselves very lucky for having been so long permitted to enjoy a privilege that rested on so fragile a foundation. When Parliament proposed to repeal the Navigation Laws it did not wait to see whether or not other countries would pursue a similar policy, and so in like manner we should not hesitate, upon public grounds, and without pausing till other nations followed our example, to abolish these differential duties on shipping. Such is the avowed and declared policy of this country; and these subordinate corporations are bound to follow in its policy the supreme corporation of the State; at least, if they have refrained from adopting such a course, they have no rightful claim to compensation for what is diametrically opposed to the settled principles and maxims of imperial legislation. I apprehend that if this question were to be argued now, we should undoubtedly refuse compensation for the removal of the existing unequal taxes upon foreigners; and we are thus entitled to apply this rule to the payment due for the next year, and so to remit these imposts for the future. We, therefore, propose that the £23,000 which is paid from the Consolidated Fund to municipal corporations and other public bodies should be at once abolished. The remaining 29,245l. is due either to individuals in reward of services rendered (as in cases of pilots, who are entitled to higher compensation for the higher fees they would have charged on the principle of differential duties against foreigners), or to persons whose property has come down to them by regular and notorious descent. These persons are entitled to compensation, but not out of the Consolidated Fund—the charge upon which in both these instances we think ought altogether to cease. In the latter case, however, we are of opinion that powers should be granted enabling the parties to raise their rates so as to indemnify themselves for the loss they will sustain; our assumption being 172 that the individual is entitled to compensation, while the corporation is not. By this transaction we shall relieve the Consolidated Fund from the payment of £52,000 a year—a contribution which, if our shipping went on increasing at its present ratio, would, no doubt, soon have to be doubled. The result of this will be, taking the account between the Consolidated Fund and this Bill, that that fund will gain by getting rid of this annual burden of £52,000, which would increase with the increase of our trade; and it will lose £60,000 in all by paying off the debts upon the Whitby and Bridlington tolls. It will also lose that portion of the Special Customs' Taxes which is paid into the Exchequer.
I omitted to mention another abuse which we propose wholly to extinguish—namely, the exemption of freemen from charges that are imposed upon other persons—such an immunity being indefensible, on the double ground that it is invidious in its nature, and that it gives to these who enjoy it an unfair advantage in the keen competition of trade over their less favoured fellow-citizens.
In order to facilitate the readjustment of the taxation in harbours which will have been disturbed by this very sweeping-change, it will be necessary to introduce another measure, the object of which will be similar to that of the Borough Harbours (Scotland) Bill, which gives to local bodies the power of raising their charges to enable them to meet their exigencies, subject, however, to a control which guards the shipping interest from excessive exactions. If the present Bill should meet with the approbation of the House, the other measure will also be shortly submitted for its consideration.
The result, then, of the whole change which we now propose to effect will be this—that we shall immediately benefit the shipping interest to the amount of £40,000 or upwards. This will be the effect of the remission of the small taxes at Dublin and Cork, and the abolition of passing tolls; and ultimately there would be a further reduction of duties to the amount (as nearly as we can calculate) of £200,000. The whole of this relief of course will not be immediate; but a considerable portion of it may be remitted at once; and the rest must be withheld in order to discharge the debt for which shipping will be liable. That, Sir, is the plan of the Government; and I apologise to the Committee for detaining 173 it so long with a very dry statement, involving much minute detail; but I am convinced that the more they consider the subject the more strongly they will feel its importance. It is a question of the shipping interest and the public against a few local bodies, who (I will not say have clung to, but) have had forced upon them by the interference of the Legislature powers and rights which cannot be defended on the grounds of equity and justice. I trust that this House will do that justice to the shipping interest of this country which I am sure it desires to do, and will give another proof of its determination to enforce the doctrines of free trade to their legitimate consequences, as well as to affirm once more that great principle without which no man's property can be safe—namely, that it is not in the power of any one class to impose taxes except for the benefit of the class that is taxed. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving to resolve—That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill for the Abolition of Passing Tolls and the Regulation of Local Dues on Shipping.
Sir, I, for one, am not going to enter into the lengthened details which have been brought before us by the right hon. Gentleman; except to say that I hope there may be ample time given, between the first and second readings of the Bill, to enable the numerous corporate bodies, whose interests it so largely affects, to give it their full consideration. There are, however, some principles enunciated this night by the right hon. Gentleman against which I must at once most explicitly enter my protest. So far as he has recognised the justice of relieving the shipping interest from the payment of vexatious charges, I most entirely concur. There is no man in this House—whether with reference to private or to public considerations—who is more desirous than I am to give the shipping interest every benefit it is in the power of the House to confer, and to take off from it every burden under which it labours. I was one of the Members for shipping ports who consented to the repeal of the Navigation Laws, but I then thought, and think still, that, as during the existence of these laws certain charges upon the shipping interest had grown up, it was but just and equitable that, on the abolition of the Navigation Laws, these charges should be abolished. I shall, then, support the mea- 174 sure of the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I can consistently do so, with due regard to the claims of others and the higher consideration of justice and the rights of property. I say, therefore, distinctly, that so far as this measure seeks to deal differently with the property of corporations from the property of individuals, I shall give it all the opposition in my power. The proposal to take away the property of municipal corporations is utterly without precedent, and opposed to every principle of justice. There is no doubt that the municipal corporations of this country hold their property upon a clear and unmistakable trust, for the benefit of the people of the towns over whom they rule. It is so expressed in the Municipal Reform Act, and the result is, that the property of a corporation is really the property of the poor people who reside in that town. It may be desirable to take away private property, but when you do so, you have always proceeded on the principle of compensation; but the moment you do so, without giving compensation, you proceed on the principle of confiscation; and the same rule applies in the case of corporate property. Now, Sir, I have that faith in the justice of the House that I feel confident it never will sanction any such principle. I do not wish to extend the debate further, but I must repeat that it is my intention to give the measure my most determined opposition, so far as it proposes to deal differently with the property of the poor from the property of the rich—to confiscate the property of municipal corporations, and to respect that of private individuals.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, he would reserve any observations that he might wish to make on the general question raised by the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, until the Bill was in the hands of the House, and had been considered by these interested in it; but felt that one remark which the right hon. Gentleman had made, when alluding to the amount of the dues levied at Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle, and other places, required some notice. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the sanitary condition and the municipal regulations of these towns were notoriously bad. Now, he (Mr. Horsfall) must entirely contradict that statement; for there was no town in the kingdom, the sanitary condition and municipal government of which were superior to these of Liverpool. What, 175 however, had the sanitary condition of Liverpool to do with a question of passing tolls on shipping? The expenses connected with the sanitary regulations of Liverpool were defrayed by a separate rate levied upon the inhabitants. The Government had sent out one of the officers of the Liverpool Sanitary Board to correct the deficiencies of their hospitals in the Crimea; and if the sanitary condition of that town was so unsatisfactory, as had been represented, he could not but express his surprise that the Government should have selected an agent from a place where the sanitary arrangements were represented to be so defective. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the dues to which his Bill referred were most oppressive, and had concluded his speech by pretending to show that these dues had operated most injuriously upon the prosperity of Liverpool. But the fact was, that notwithstanding the alleged oppressiveness of these dues, no town in the kingdom had, of late years, been more prosperous than that very town which he had the honour to represent, and which the right hon. Gentleman had cited as an example of their injurious effects. If that were so, what became of the allegation that the dues were oppressive? He would not now endeavour to answer the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman—upon what authority these dues were levied? The various corporations who claimed such dues levied them under a title which, in his opinion, could not be disputed; and he thought that, before proceeding to legislate on this subject, the preliminary question, whether these corporations had or had not a legal right to such dues, ought to be decided by a court of law. If it should be proved that they had a legal title to these dues, it would be inconsistent with the national character for justice to deprive them of such a right without affording them ample compensation; but if, on the other hand, the courts of law decided that no legal title existed, it would he very easy for the House to deal with the subject. He hoped that, previously to the second reading of the Bill, full time would be afforded for the consideration of its provisions by these whose interests it would so materially affect.
§ MR. RICE
said, he simply rose to protest against the assumption of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, that all the dues in question levied by corporations were originally granted for ship- 176 ping purposes. The fact was quite the contrary; and that they had been levied for a variety of purposes. He had been glad to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman with reference to the port of Dovor, which he hoped would soon be entitled to the appellation of a harbour. He expressed his hope that ample time would be afforded to parties interested in this subject for carefully considering the effect of the measure.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he was not inclined to dispute the statements of his hon. Friend opposite with regard to the sanitary condition of Liverpool, and he was glad to hear that the expenditure for sanitary purposes in that town was met by a special rate. He considered that all the municipal expenses ought to be supported by rates imposed on the inhabitants, and not by dues levied upon shipping and upon commerce. He felt assured from communications he had received from his constituents, that they would learn with great satisfaction that the Government had resolved to deal with this important question, and that they would no longer allow Manchester and the surrounding districts to be taxed in order to contribute to the municipal expenses of the borough of Liverpool. Without giving any opinion as to the particular details of the measure, he would be most ready to support the principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he must take the earliest opportunity of endorsing in the fullest manner an opinion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Headlam). He wished to know why a different course of legislation was to be adopted in the case of private and corporate property? There was one opinion in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), which met with his most cordial assent—namely, that there was but little liberality in dealing with the property of others; and upon that very ground he (Mr. Liddell) saw reason to differ from many portions of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. As regarded the measure, he would reserve to himself the right of opposing it, either in its principle or its details, at a future stage.
I, Sir, give the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade my warmest and best thanks for the measure which he proposes to introduce; and I think that he is going 177 on exceedingly just grounds and dealing with exceeding generosity—with too much generosity—with the corporations, who have for too long a time been allowed to levy taxes upon shipping and commerce for purposes quite alien to these interests. I shall at another time be able to answer any arguments which may be adduced with a view of showing that these corporations had any right to tax the shipping interests for municipal purposes.
§ MR. WATSON
To that part of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman which does away with passing tolls, I shall give my support; but there is another portion of it which will require very grave consideration—I mean that which deals with the property of corporations. There are various places where these shipping dues belong to the corporations of Newcastle, Liverpool, and other towns; and it becomes a serious question on what ground is the right to these dues founded. I believe it will be found that they have existed from time immemorial—as long, in some instances, as the corporations themselves, and for reasons which are perfectly obvious. The right to them is founded on immemorial custom; and therefore I trust that sufficient time will he given to enable parties to fully and carefully consider this measure. A great question will arise, whether or not there are any legal grounds on the part of the corporations for claiming these dues. It may he very well for the hon. Member who has just spoken to say that the right hon. Gentleman who wishes to introduce the Bill has dealt very lightly with the rights belonging to corporations; but I trust the House will never be found to take away either their property or the property of individuals, because they both stand on the same footing. Having said these few words, and reserving to myself the fullest liberty of dealing with that second question when it comes before the House, I will add nothing further, except to express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give ample time to the various corporations in the country who are interested to offer their opinions on the subject
§ MR. LOWE
I do not think I cast, and I certainly never meant to cast, any imputation upon the sanitary condition of Liverpool. The observation I intended to make was, that Liverpool was not placed exactly in that ornate state in which one might have expected it to be, looking to the circumstance that rates to the amount of 105,000l. were levied upon shipping and 178 the commercial interests, and applied to the benefit of the inhabitants; but, perhaps, it would have been quite as well if I had said nothing about that matter. The hon. Member for Dovor (Mr. Rich) has assumed that I represented that these dues were originally for shipping purposes. What I said was exactly the reverse. I will now state, in order to clear the way for future discussion, that the Crown granted these dues as a matter of prerogative, without necessarily fixing any duty upon these who received them. In Scotland a duty was attached to them, but not in England; and I believe that, before the Municipal Act, the old corporations received these tolls, and applied them as they pleased, without any regard whatever to shipping purposes. Then, as to the vested interests of corporations, hon. Gentlemen have said, with much solemnity, that that is a great question, and that it must be seriously discussed hereafter. Why, it is not a new question. It has been discussed a hundred times in this House. How do the corporations get these rights? Why, they get them under the Municipal Reform Act, which took from self-elected bodies, which had no community of feeling with the towns in which they lived, their property, and gave it to bodies elected by the ratepayers. Therefore that Act, which is said to be the very strongest ground on which they claim these dues, affords the very strongest instance that it is the practice of the Legislature to deal in the freest possible manner with the property of corporations.
§ Resolution agreed to; House resumed.
§ Resolution reported.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. FITZROY, Mr. LOWE, and Viscount PALMERSTON.